A True Crime ~ A Review

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Filmmaker Marques Green has a watchful eye on the travails of young Black men in his newest short film A True Crime. Donte (Tireni Oyenusi) is a 14-year-old in search of his own current in the flow of his community. In his search, Donte becomes entangled in an all too familiar situation we are witnessing at present in our socio-political climate: he is coerced to confess to a crime he did not commit.

I wanted to show his [Donte’s] sense of betrayal by the cops he thought were his friends but now are full on enemies. All of this in the middle of the night, and he is all by himself.

~ Tireni Oyenusi

Green’s inspiration for A True Crime comes from an actual crime that happened to a developmentally challenged black teenager named Davontae Sanford in Detroit, Michigan. Sanford was tried as an adult and convicted of four murders in 2007. When professional hitman Vincent Smothers confessed to the murders, Sanford was exonerated of the crimes in 2016. “I thought it was an interesting and layered story all the way around,” says Green, “It sparked so many questions for me like why would he make up a story and admit to something he didn’t do? How could the police violate him so willingly? How could this happen? What can we learn from it and, ultimately, what will bring change?”

Marques Green Portrait Nov 2017 B&W

Marques Green, Director

We first meet Donte walking alone idly on a sunny day among discarded items on the sidewalk. The ice cream truck arrives. Children gather around Phil (Christian Henley), a gang member, as he passes out money to them to buy ice cream. Phil’s generosity encourages Donte to ask for his share to purchase ice cream as well. Phil pushes him away. Clay (Freddie Gibbs), Phil’s partner, arrives in a shiny red car with his girlfriend (Veranique Basquez). As Clay enters the car, Donte asks to hang out with them. Phil replies, “Are you crazy? Yo’ slow ass ain’t fit to be part of this!” Later, when Donte awakens his mother to advise her that something has happened, she tells him “mind your business and take yo’ ass back to bed. Go!”

Donte, for certain, is in a precarious space: too old to belong with the kids and too young to cruise with the grown up Old G’s. In this vortex of confusion, Donte unwittingly begins his journey for inclusion. “He’s coming of age and navigating manhood,” explains Green, “and I wanted to know exactly how that happens for Donte in a community that has made him invisible. I wanted us to look at ourselves and these situations, to really see how the community has failed him, to show how alone he is.”

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Tireni Oyenusi as Donte

Oyenusi caught the character’s isolation within his community when he read the script. “The first thing that hit me was how much struggle he goes through. On top of having emotional and behavioral disabilities, he just wants to fit in. He wants so badly to be a part of the community. Nobody wants to hang around him. I saw all of that struggle.”

Donte indeed finds acceptance but it is in the back seat of a squad car with Detective Brown (Hector Bustamante) and Detective Myers (Michael Cognata), two “friendly” policemen who have been called to the murder scene of the four people in the neighborhood. Detective Myers “befriends” Donte but with an ulterior motive. Cognata analyzed the role to discover other dimensions to his character. He reveals, “Detective Myers is a part of an evil scheme but I wanted to make sure to bring some sympathy, some humanity to him. He’s under pressure to solve the crime. People don’t always intend to harm. Myers was in a position to help that kid but his choices in this situation were for his own protection. It was his inability to stand up when the moment was right.” Green agrees,

the dynamic between the cops – the pressure they feel in trying to solve this quadruple murder–works against Donte. Both interrogate him without his parent; he has no protection in that room. One cop knows what they are doing is wrong but works with his superior officer to create the downfall of Donte. To make matters worse, Donte doesn’t understand the weight or gravity of the situation he is in.

A True Crime, then, is a story of violation: a violation of rights, a violation of space, and a violation of trust. Derek Whitacre’s music score strikes the haunting realities Donte has to face in his desperation to fit in. Cinematographer Bruce Francis Cole deftly uses warm and cold hues of gold, blue, and white lighting to create the tone and ambiance of these public and private disruptions.

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Donte and Clay take a dream ride

The flashing lights from the police car violate not only public space of the neighborhood,  also, the violation occurs in the private space of the home. There is no rest. There is no privacy. Lights pierce through Donte’s bedroom awakening him from sleep; they sweep through the living room; and, beams of red pound against the outer walls of houses. When the white beam from the police’s light flashes on Donte in the yard, Donte reacts as if a sword has impaled his body. The only peace to be found is in Donte’s head as he imagines hanging out with Clay and Phil in that shiny red car. 

People don’t always intend to harm. Myers was in a position to help that kid but his choices in this situation were for his own protection.

~ Michael Cognata

There are several angles to the story, and Shayar Bhansali’s seamless editing makes fluid each narrative intersection. Cognata notes how pressure plays out in the film. He says, “everyone is under pressure to make a decision. Donte’s mother, for example, whom we briefly hear from, probably works a lot so she’s tired and has to sleep through the majority of time with her son, so there is a lack of leadership there.” Oyenusi marks out Donte’s distress throughout the story. The particular choice the actor makes in his final close-up signifies the character’s desperation. “At that point, I really tried to feel what Donte was feeling as he was among strangers,” Oyenusi says, “I wanted to show his sense of betrayal by the cops he thought were his friends but now are full on enemies. All of this in the middle of the night, and he is all by himself.”

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Donte and Detective Myers (Michael Cognata)

Green’s overarching angle in A True Crime is the exploration of the justice system, a system he believes, “needs a lot of work, and there are different ways those who work within that system try to get us caught up in it. That could have been me in the back of that squad car or my brother or any Black youth. I wanted to place the audience in Donte’s position to feel the pressure he was forced to deal with. The whole situation is a crime, really.”

In the final analysis, Green is motivated to tell not just stories, but stories that investigate the moeurs of every day life. “I have to create. Real stories inspire me, and  A True Crime embodies all of the elements I see Black men having to navigate on a daily basis.”

Diego Nájera and Katherine Fisher, producers; Sheri Bradford, Executive Producer; Valerie Castillo Martinez, Francisco Velasquez, and Angel Kristi Williams, Executive Producers-Film Independent; Roxy Hua, Production Design; Robyn Owen Silvestri, CSA, and Michael Sanford, Casting.  

A True Crime  premieres at Philadelphia’s BlackStar Film Festival in August 2019.

For more information on Marques Green, visit http://www.quefilms.com

A True Crime is a project of Film Independent Future Filmmakers’ Project Involve. For more information, visit https://www.filmindependent.org/programs/project-involve.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Awesome review. Insightful and well written, as always. Keep it coming!

    Reply

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